Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Pieplow|
|Produced by||Larry Meistrich|
David L. Bushell
|Written by||Dee Snider|
|Music by||Anton Sanko|
|Edited by||Jeff Kushner|
Joe Woo, Jr.
Snider Than Thou Productions
|Distributed by||Raucous Releasing|
Strangeland is a 1998 American crime thriller film written by Dee Snider and directed by John Pieplow. The film centers around a police detective trying to save his city, as well as his daughter, from an online predator who enjoys bringing "enlightenment" through ritual pain.
The film has a strong emphasis on the Modern Primitive subculture, and its ethos of spiritual transcendence through painful rites, showing several such different practices therein. Accordingly, a large amount of dialogue of the film's villain (concerning his personal philosophy) are paraphrases or direct quotations of Fakir Musafar, the father of the Modern Primitive movement.
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Genevieve and her best friend, Tiana, are typical 15-year-olds living in Helverton, Colorado. Genevieve is a regular visitor to online chat rooms, and as the pair are hanging out one night, she begins chatting with an online friend who goes by the alias of Captain Howdy. He invites the pair to a party at his house, and although Tiana is reluctant to go, Genevieve insists that times have changed, and that she is being overly cautious. She shows Tiana his personal info, which indicates that he's their age and has similar interests, which allays Tiana's nerves. Neither of them return home by the next morning.
Genevieve's mother, Toni, gets a call from Tiana's mother asking if she stayed overnight. This troubles Toni, as she thought Genevieve was staying at Tiana's. She alerts her husband, Detective Mike Gage, who begins searching for Genevieve and Tiana with the assistance of his partner, Detective Steve Christianson. The investigation is slow going, with there being nothing to really go on, as the party invite is unknown to him. Mike is also largely ignorant of computers and the internet, and his early attempts to access Genevieve's computer, goes nowhere.
The case takes an unexpected turn when Tiana's car is pulled out of a lake, with her bloated body inside the trunk, and no sign of Genevieve. Detective Christianson discovers a large-gauge piece of body jewelry next to Tiana's corpse, that is identified as a "septum spike", by the heavily tattooed tow-truck driver on the scene. He proceeds to explain the modern primitive subculture to the detectives, and asserts that due size of the jewelry, the owner of it is a member of the community. He also gives them the location of a downtown nightclub, Xibalba ("Hell" in Mayan Culture), where the modified community hangs out. They investigate the club, but quickly realise that the size of the crowd, all of whom are modified to varying degrees, makes it a futile endeavor. Unbeknownst to the Detectives, is that Captain Howdy is in attendance at the club, performing in a body suspension ritual in a back room. Autopsy results on Tiana's remains surprises the detectives, in that it is shown she died of cardiac arrest stemming from a congenital defect, and brought on by extreme physical and emotional trauma. The results also deeply unsettle Mike, with the cause of the physical trauma being evident in puncture wounds all over Tiana's body, performed by a surgical needle.
Days go by with no leads, and Toni does her best to cope with her daughter missing, as well as Mike appearing calloused by having to override his personal feelings regarding the case, to better serve Genevieve. Mike's niece, Angela, accidentally tells him that both she and Genevieve have met guys online, which gives Mike his first solid lead. He contacts the web company, and gets the online-handle of the last person who his daughter spoke to. Angela assists her uncle in setting up a fake online profile, and posing as a student, he communicates with Captain Howdy, who deduces almost instantly that he's being baited. Howdy invites Gage to the same party he invited Genevieve to. The plan goes awry, as Howdy has given them a false address, and the SWAT team busts in on an elderly couple having sex.
The next morning, Howdy contacts Mike addressing him as "Cop", and toys with him further, but also gives away his location in the process. Gage enters the residence, and finds Captain Howdy's torture chamber, which has six local missing teenagers within; nude, shackled, and "gagged" via their lips being sewn shut. Genevieve being one of them. All having been tortured in various body-modification based ways. As Gage begins to free his daughter, he is ambushed from behind and momentarily knocked unconscious by Captain Howdy, and his gun bounces away from him as he falls. As Howdy is securing Genevieve's bonds, Mike comes to and Captain Howdy is revealed in his entirety for the first time. His body is heavily modified with extensive blackwork (tribal) body and facial tattoos, facial and body piercings, branding, and teeth filed to points. A brief struggle ensues in which Captain Howdy gets shot, subdued by Mike, and arrested. Howdy expresses to Mike that he is a man who lives without fear, because his one true wish in life is to be dead, and that pain is his only pleasure.
Captain Howdy is revealed to be a local man named Carlton Hendricks, whom after a lengthy and controversial court case, is declared not guilty by reason of insanity. He is then mandated to the Meistrich Psychiatric Institute, only to be released after three years, upon being deemed as totally cured. Local outcry and general disapproval also leads to the closing of Xibalba during the ensuing months. Hendricks, who has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic with a severe chemical imbalance, exhibits no symptoms of his mental condition while on anti-psychotic medication which suppresses his sadistic alter ego of Captain Howdy. His transformation being pontificated by a normalised dress, and daily application of makeup to conceal Captain Howdy's facial tattoos.
Upon his release, Hendricks moves back to his home in Helverton, which has been heavily vandalized by the community in his absence. Hendricks is genuinely remorseful and ashamed about what Captain Howdy has done, but the memories are still fresh in the minds of Helverton's residents, and many refuse to believe he was ever unable to control his actions. A local activist group led by Jackson Roth and Catherine "Sunny" Macintosh, are Hendricks' main opponents, being that they feel he should have received life in prison or the death sentence for his crimes. It is also alluded to earlier in the film, and later revealed, that Captain Howdy had raped Genevieve while she was in his custody.
A few nights later, Roth's daughter Kelly stays out past curfew with her boyfriend, which leads the contemptuous Roth to jump to the conclusion that Hendricks has taken her. He calls some buddies, and they form a lynch mob with Sunny's assistance, and storm Hendricks' house and kidnap him. During this, Hendricks accidentally drops his medication, and it is run over by a car. Mike witnesses the abduction of Hendricks from his post, but after a brief internal battle, he drops his dispatch radio and does not report it. Hendricks spots Gage doing so. Roth and the group then take Hendricks to a wooded area, and beat and hang him from a tree, and watch in joy as Hendricks flails about and goes limp. A heavy rain storm moves in, and they leave the body to hang. Hendricks' noose has been thrown over a weak and cracked branch, and this coupled with the rain and his body weight, cause it to snap. He regains consciousness, but with the combination of brain and emotional trauma as well as the near-death experience, Captain Howdy's deepest pleasure, his alter ego completely takes over. This time set on revenge.
A few nights later, Howdy breaks into Roth's house and assaults his wife, Madeline, and uses her bloodied and unconscious body to knock him out before abducting him. Howdy also kidnaps Sunny before, contacting Mike at the police station to let him know that he has returned. After hanging up with Mike, Howdy brutally tortures Roth and Sunny. The next day, Toni calls Mike and asks him why he pulled their daughter out of school early, as she just got a call in regards to it. Mike has no clue what she is talking about, and they in unsion have the same horrible revelation, and Mike speeds home with his partner. When Mike gets home with Steve, Howdy's face is on the computer screen. Howdy has Genevieve and her mouth is stitched shut again, and he proceeds to torture Genevieve while Mike and Toni watch the screen. Toni pleads with Captain Howdy and demands to know what Genevieve ever did to him. Howdy quickly retorts that; "SHE didn't do a thing!", implying that it was Mike's allowance of Hendricks' lynching that has brought this on his daughter this time. Howdy disconnects before a trace can be completed, but his new torture chamber is discovered some time later by officers responding to a call of break in at a derelict warehouse space. They discover Roth, Sunny, Genevieve and several others who have all been brutally tortured in Howdy's modus operandi of body modification based techniques.
Upon his arrival at the crime scene, Mike finds a cryptic message written for him within a matchbook for Xibalba, and goes after Howdy alone. Christianson quietly slips out, and follows Mike. Gage arrives at the club, gains entrance, and has a standoff with Captain Howdy wherein Gage berates him for being a coward whom picks on the weak, as a result of his own persecution complex. Howdy attacks Mike out of rage, and strangles him unconscious, as Christianson bangs on the doors outside.
Mike comes to shortly thereafter in the body-suspension room in the back of the club, with large hooks descending down from a hoist. Howdy ambushes Mike from behind, and stands ready to kill him with one of the hooks, while taunting him about Genevieve. However, Mike gets the upper hand by ripping out Howdy's septum piercing. As Mike regains his composure, Howdy (unfazed by physical pain) tells Mike that he is going to die, and that Genevieve will join him soon. Mike finds his inner strength and slams Howdy into a wall, sinks one of the meat hooks into his back, and then hoists Howdy up into the air. He remains defiant, by stating: "I bet Genevieve felt like this, when I was inside her!". Mike battles his morals and sense of duty for a brief moment, as Howdy urges him to arrest him once more while laughing, knowing that he'll probably get minimal punishment. Mike makes a silent decision, picks up an oil lamp, and douses Howdy's legs with the contents. He swings about stunned and watches in fear as Mike strikes a match, who reminds Howdy that he isn't supposed to be scared of anything, because he wishes for death. Mike ignites the rest of the matchbook, and says: "This is for Genevieve, you fuck!", tossing the lit matches at Howdy's legs. Howdy screams in agony as he continues to swing about on the meat hook, bouncing from wall to wall igniting the tapestries, and turning the room into an inferno. Gage watches as Howdy is overtaken by a lack of oxygen and physical shock, and goes limp, continuing to burn and hang. Christianson bursts into the room, and pulls Mike outside as the meat hook rips from Howdy's fully engulfed body, and his corpse continues to burn on the floor.
Once outside, Christianson attempts to reassure Mike that he didn't have a choice, and did what was necessary. Mike replies by stating: "Everyone has a choice, and I just made mine". He then leaves the smoking building, to visit his wife and daughter in the hospital, as Christianson calls in the fire.
- Dee Snider as Carlton Hendricks/Captain Howdy
- Linda Cardellini as Genevieve Gage
- Kevin Gage as Detective Mike Gage
- Elizabeth Peña as Toni Gage
- Brett Harrelson as Detective Steve Christianson
- Robert Englund as Jackson Roth
- Amy Smart as Angela Stravelli
- Tucker Smallwood as Captain Churchill Robbins
- Ivonne Coll as Rose Stravelli
- Robert LaSardo as Matt Myers (Tow-Truck Driver)
- Barbara Champion as Catherine "Sunny" Macintosh
- Amal Rhoe as Tiana Moore
- Dee Snider - "Inconclusion"
- Sevendust - "Breathe"
- Megadeth - "A Secret Place"
- Pantera - "Where You Come From"
- Anthrax - "Piss N Vinegar"
- Snot - "Absent"
- dayinthelife... - "Street Justice"
- Coal Chamber - "Not Living"
- Bile - "In League"
- Marilyn Manson - "Sweet Tooth"
- Soulfly - "Eye for an Eye"
- Hed P.E. - "Serpent Boy" (Radio Edit)
- Kid Rock - "Fuck Off", featuring Eminem
- The Clay People - "Awake"
- System of a Down - "Marmalade"
- Nashville Pussy - "I'm the Man"
- Crisis - "Captain Howdy"
- Twisted Sister - "Heroes are Hard to Find"
Other songs recorded/used on the film but not present on the official CD:
- Backyard Babies - "Highlights" (credited at the end of the movie)
- Crisis - "Methodology" (credited at the end of the movie)
- Paw - "Street Justice" (recorded for the movie, wasn't used for the film nor the CD)
The film's conceptual basis has its roots in the 4th track on the Twisted Sister, 1984 release, Stay Hungry. The song, entitled "Horror-Teria: A) Captain Howdy B) Street Justice"; tells the story of a sadistic child murderer, named Captain Howdy, who ultimately walks free on a technicality, and is the avenged upon by an outraged mob of parents. A line from the song, spoken by Howdy to one of his victims, carries over into the film after he stitches Genevieve's mouth shut, "There...that's better!". The overall tale of the song and character, has rather obvious similarities with that of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the backstory of Freddy Krueger. The film debuted in theaters 5 months prior to the release of Stay Hungry. The name "Captain Howdy" was taken from The Exorcist, wherein it is the name used early on by the Mesopotamian demon king, Pazuzu, who ultimately possesses Reagan MacNeil.
The characters differ significantly though from one medium to another, in that the song's villain is presented as a cold-blooded monster who is fully in control of his actions, and is a traditional killer with no mentioning of body modifications. Whereas the film portrays a mentally imbalanced man, whose motivations are more on par with that of a would-be cult leader. He doesn't initially set out to kill anyone, instead intending to "help" them through forced body modifications and ritualistic pain in the name of transcendental enlightenment, albeit for his own sadistic pleasure.
Strangeland received almost universally negative reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes, where it holds a lowly 6% approval rating. Although the film took advantage of the inherit dangers of, what was at that time the burgeoning precursor to social network platforms, many found the story overly contrived and emotionally flat. This was coupled with what was perceived as; poor acting and direction, cheap and unconvincing makeup effects, as well as a considerable amount of modified people taking offense to the way in which their community was presented. During its box office run, it grossed $713,239, opening at 315 theaters in North America.
The setting for the film takes place in the fictional city of Helverton, Colorado, and was filmed in the Colorado Springs and Denver vicinity. The club scenes for Xibalba were filmed at Denver's Church nightclub, and Strangeland was the first TSG Pictures and Artisan DVD release.
Dee Snider had to sit in the makeup chair for several hours every day to be transformed into Captain Howdy. All of the tattoos, brandings, filed teeth, and body piercings were fake apart from his septum, which he did indeed have pierced. However, his septum piercing was a standard 14g, and a special piece of jewelry was made to give it the appearance of being around 00g. The septum spike discovered by Christianson, is visibly more around 1/2" - 5/8", however.
A sequel, titled Strangeland: Disciple, is being produced by Emaji Entertainment and TSG Entertainment and distributed by Lionsgate, as of May 2015. Dee Snider plans to have it rated NC-17, and later release an R-rated version for wider exposure. He believes this unusual marketing strategy will create buzz for the "original" NC-17 version. As of 2019, any and all plans for a sequel have been scrapped.
Snider released a comic book prequel, Dee Snider's Strangeland: Seven Sins through Fangoria Comics, but the company suddenly closed after only the first issue was printed. The Scream Factory then picked up the title and published the full run in 2008.